USDA wants to restore organic wellness standards; could be beneficial for food security

Celebrating the USDA’s August 5 decision to reinstate organic animal welfare standards, organic advocates are hailing this as a “resounding victory” for organic farmers, their livestock, and organic consumers.

As such, it reverses the Trump administration’s 2018 withdrawal of the 2017 rule on organic livestock and poultry.

The 2017 regulations, which took 10 years to develop, governed the living conditions, transport and slaughter of organic livestock.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is proposing to change requirements for organic livestock and poultry production by adding new provisions for handling and transporting livestock for slaughter and living conditions of birds; and expanding and clarifying existing requirements for livestock care and production practices and mammalian living conditions.

“The USDA has again confirmed our position that ‘organic’ means consistently protecting animal welfare,” said Amy van Saun, senior counsel at the Center for Food Safety.

She also said the USDA’s proposed rule appears to fully restore the requirements recommended by the National Organic Standards Board and organic agriculture stakeholders. It would also include crucial updates that require organic chickens to have adequate space indoors and access to the outdoors, eliminating the “porches” that have allowed some chicken farms to factory farms to market their poultry and eggs as organic.

This screened area is an example of a chicken “porch”.

Screened “porches” are usually small enclosures placed just outside the coops that the chickens can access from inside the coop. However, some say it is a loophole that large commercial chicken farms, where thousands of birds can be housed in a single unit, use to say their chickens have access to the outdoors and that their eggs and chickens are therefore organic.

A 2002 decision to count screen porches as outdoor space caused a rift between large- and small-scale growers, with small-scale growers saying the porches didn’t give chickens an equal chance of accessing the outdoors.

In June, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he wanted the regulations to include a proposal to ban the use of porches as outdoor space in organic production.

years of litigation
After four years of litigation over the issue of humane treatment of organic livestock, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has decided to allow the USDA to redo and update its regulations. The Trump administration had said it was not the USDA’s job to regulate the humane treatment of animals.

But in 2018, the federal court rejected the arguments of the former administration and ruled that the withdrawal of the rule which had set organic animal welfare standards harms the members of the organizations because it undermines the organic label for consumers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency looks forward to public comment on this, and after reviewing the comments, the USDA will issue a final rule.

“We are pleased that the court has paved the way for the national organic program to finally align with consumer expectations, said Cristina Stella, chief counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (https://aldf. org), one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Consumer confidence, key to organic farming
“The reinstatement of the organic animal welfare rule is a huge victory for ensuring the confidence of consumers and farmers, who expect meaningful and consistent standards for animal welfare under the organic label,” said Abby Youngblood, executive director of the National Organic Coalition and complainant. in the case.

Rick Salazar of Earp, California is organic all the way. For him, organic food is healthier for him and his wife.

Like many other organic advocates, he assumes that meat and poultry bearing the organic label have been raised humanely, which includes access to the outdoors and not being confined in what may be unsanitary housing.

When asked if humane treatment is important to him, his answer comes quickly. “Certainly,” he said. “It makes a big difference for us.”

Beef farmer Virginia Good Vlahovich’s email address is “Happy Cows Forever” – a clear message that she and her husband Tom treat their cows humanely. They have their cows on pasture and have not fed them for four or five years. And although their farm isn’t certified organic — which is true of many small farms that follow organic practices, like not using synthetic fertilizers or harmful pesticides — they know their customers trust them to process their animals with humanity. It is an important element in being good farmers and in attracting and retaining customers.

“I would say that’s true,” Vlahovich said.

As a board member of the Sedro-Woolley Washington Farmers Market, she said she could see more and more people going organic. And she can also see the trust they place in organic farmers to treat their animals and poultry humanely.

“I welcome this news,” said Eiko Vojkovich, co-owner of Skagit River Ranch in western Washington. “Our job as breeders is to let our animals thrive in their own environment. Treating them humanely is important to us. Consumers trust us. »

Eiko, her husband George and their daughter Nicole raise organic cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys. According to their website, their broiler chickens are raised outdoors in mobile pens where they can roam green pastures in the fresh air. They eat grass and organic grains supplemented with flaxseed and sea kelp to ensure they have plenty of vitamins and trace minerals.

Regarding eggs from the farm, the farm’s website states that “unlike so-called ‘free-range’ chickens which are raised in confinement, our laying hens really live on pasture and eat grass, insects and organic cereals as they roam the green fields all day long. Our eggs sell out so quickly at farmers markets that our customers line up for 15 minutes before the opening bell rings. They are so good!

Boosting consumer confidence, Vilsack said earlier this year, “I understand that we have work to do to rebuild trust between the department and the organic industry, and I am committed to that. And those who work at the USDA are committed to it.

About food safety
According to an article published in PubMed.gov by AM de Passillé and J Rushen: “A better appreciation of the link between animal welfare and animal health makes the link to food safety clearer. Improving animal welfare has the potential to reduce on-farm food safety risks, primarily through reduced stress-induced immunosuppression, reduced incidence of infectious diseases in farms and a reduction in the shedding of human pathogens by farm animals, as well as a reduction in antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. .

“Farmed animal health issues continue to be serious threats to animal welfare, and measures of disease incidence can serve as animal-based measures of animal welfare. The continued development of risk analysis and critical control point-based approaches to animal welfare would enable a more harmonious integration of animal welfare and food safety standards.

The proposed rule
The proposed rule would update USDA organic regulations for animal production. The proposed changes would address a range of topics related to organic livestock care, including:

Livestock health care practices — The proposed rule would specify which physical modification procedures, such as beak trimming and tail docking, are prohibited or restricted for use on organic livestock. Proposed standards of practice for livestock health care include requirements for euthanasia to reduce the suffering of any sick or disabled livestock;

Living conditions — The proposed rule would set separate standards for living conditions for mammals and birds to better reflect the needs and behaviors of different species, as well as consumer expectations. The proposed standards for livestock mammals would cover both ruminants and pigs. Proposed living standards for avian livestock would set maximum indoor and outdoor stocking densities to ensure birds have enough space to engage in natural behaviours;

Transport of animals — The proposed rule would add new requirements on the transportation of organic livestock for sale or slaughter;

Slaughter – The proposed rule would add a new section to clarify how organic slaughterhouse practices and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations work together to support animal welfare.

Go here (https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2022-16980.pdf) to learn more about the rule.

A listening session
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will host a virtual listening session on August 19 from noon to approximately 2 p.m. EDT to hear feedback regarding this proposed rule. The deadline to register for oral comments is 11:59 p.m. EDT, August 15. Access information will be posted on the AMS website prior to the listening session at https://www.ams.usda.gov/event/listening-session -biological-norms-for-breeding- and-poultry.

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